A female Tesla engineer has accused the automaker of widespread discrimination against women.
In a lawsuit filed last year, AJ Vandermeyden alleged Tesla ignored complaints of "pervasive harassment" of female employees, paid her a lower salary than men doing the same work, and promoted less-qualified men over her, and responded negatively when she raised these issues.
The allegations became public shortly after accusations against another prominent Silicon Valley company—Uber—by a female former employee.
But it is rare for a worker to make such accusations while still employed by the company.
In an interview with The Guardian published several weeks ago, Vandermeyden said she felt compelled to speak publicly because she is "an advocate of Tesla," but could not ignore "something fundamentally wrong" that she felt was happening within the company.
Vandermeyden joined Tesla in 2013, and was subsequently promoted to a manufacturing-engineering position in the general-assembly department.
2017 Tesla Model S
The department consisted of mostly men, and she was paid less than male engineers whose work she directly took over, according to the lawsuit.
In her interview, Vandermeyden said complaints of workplace issues at Tesla are often dismissed, with the response that "we're focused on making cars," which takes precedent over such issues as human resources and workplace culture.
The lawsuit alleges Vandermeyden pointed out manufacturing flaws her male counterparts and superiors had missed, but that her efforts were not acknowledged.
She and other female engineers were routinely passed over for promotions in favor of men, even though they were "equally or more qualified," according to the lawsuit.
The complaint also said Vandermeyden experienced consistent harassment on the factory floor "including but not limited to inappropriate language, whistling, and catcalls."
After she raised concerns about these conditions with management in Fall 2015, Vandermeyden was told that in order to advance her position, she would need to achieve a performance standard not expected of male engineers and impossible to attain, according to the lawsuit.
Tesla factory, Fremont, California
This forced her to transfer out of general assembly to purchasing, where she continues to work today, according to the suit.
The suit also alleged Tesla denied Vandermeyden both overtime pay and breaks in her new position, and retaliated against her when she raised concerns about cars "sold in a defective state."
After the Guardian story was published, Tesla released a statement denying Vandermeyden's claims.
The automaker said it had hired a "neutral third party" last year to investigate her claims, and that an "exhaustive review of the facts" showed that "claims of gender discrimination, harassment, and retaliation have not been substantiated."
"Tesla is committed to creating a positive workplace environment that is free of discrimination for all our employees," the company statement said.
Silicon Valley's largely male engineering culture has struggled with the issues of gender bias and inappropriate behavior by men against women for many years.